I have looked at literally thousands of photos from Michigan's past. One thing I noticed while perusing all the images of our towns from over 100 years ago, I noticed something many of them had in common: train wrecks. There seemed to be SO many of them all those years ago. So I thought I'd put together a collection of some of the photos from those century-old wrecks.

But before I get to that, I dug up some info on some of the worst train wrecks that ever occurred in our state. The following details are according to History Grand Rapids, meaning they all centered around the Grand Rapids area...

It was Friday, August 29, 1873 when Michigan had its first serious train wreck. It happened a mile east of Muir when the train lost its driving wheel. According to the site, “The flagman went back to protect the rear of the train from a freight train that was following.....the freight's engineman could not stop his train in time. He plowed into the rear of the passenger train. Two mothers and two children...died in the wreck...eleven Icelanders and three others were injured.”

Two weeks later on Monday, September 15, 1873, a cow wandered onto the tracks west of Lowell. The Detroit & Milwaukee westbound ran over the cow, derailing several cars. Two passengers died instantly, two died a few weeks later due to their injuries, and 14 others were injured.

Near Greenville on Saturday, July 18, 1874 a train on the Detroit, Lansing & Lake Michigan Railroad hit a tree that had fallen onto the tracks. The train was thrown off the tracks, killing six crew members and injuring four more.

It was Wednesday, August 15, 1900 that this wreck became the first serious wreck of the 1900s. The Northland Express left Grand Rapids at 4:05am on its way to meet the southbound Mackinaw City-Grand Rapids train. But the MCGR was late. In a confusing series of attempts to change the meeting place, a dispatcher changed the meeting point to a few miles south of Pierson. The southbound got the order, the northbound did not. It was after 4am when these two trains barreled down the tracks at 60mph thru heavy fog. They collided head-on. Both engineers, a conductor, two passengers, and two firemen perished.

Saturday night, December 26, 1903 during a heavy snowstorm, westbound #5 and eastbound #6 out of Grand Rapids were running late. Their meeting place was changed due to the storm, but again, it was a case of not getting the order. A dispatcher sent a “stop” order to the next station for Number 5. But thanks to the snow and darkness, the engineer failed to see it. Unaware he was supposed to stop just up the tracks, he continued on...and crashed head on with Number 6 around 5:40pm. 21 died and forty were injured. The engineer of Number 5 was cleared – but felt so guilty, he left his family and was never seen again.

Thursday, August 19, 1943. In the 11am hour, New York Central “Wolverine” passenger train headed south for Jackson and Detroit. As the train approached the yards, three children – one six years old, the others five – put stones and rocks on the tracks. The train came through at 30-35 mph, hit the rocks, and a few cars including the engine were derailed. The engine plowed through until it stopped; the fireman was trapped inside and was scalded to death by escaping steam.

Now take a look at over 50 of the worst Michigan train wrecks going back to the early 1900s...

Michigan's Worst Train Wrecks, 1900-1929


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